Italy’s ambassador to Ankara on Thursday praised Turkey’s role in the political solution in Libya and said: “I think that the Turkish government, that has been working quite closely with Italy, has also given its very positive contribution to this solution.”
Speaking to a group of reporters from the Diplomatic Correspondents Association of Turkey virtually, Massimo Gaiani addressed several matters related to Turkish-Italian relations as well as regional and international matters.
“I think that this very important step will bring a positive trend and that further on the issues of the military presence will be progressively solved. I think that we are on the right path. We will continue the very close dialogue between Italy and Turkey on Libyan issues, in the spirit of stabilizing the country,” he added.
Noting that both Turkey and Italy need the “stabilization of Libya,” he stressed that Libya “is an important partner, not only in economic terms but also for the security of the region, of controlling terrorism, of controlling migration flows.”
Gaiani highlighted Italy’s support of the Berlin process and noted that “together with Turkey’s contribution, we will continue to support the process that has started under the UN auspices.”
Responding to a question regarding Libya’s new unity government and Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh being proposed to the country’s House of Representatives on March 10, the Italian ambassador said he welcomed the development.
“It shows that a Libyan-owned process has brought a political solution to the crisis. And I’m sure that all the countries involved in Libya will now try to contribute to this positive evolution,” Gaiani said.
On Feb. 5, Libya’s rival political groups agreed in U.N.-mediated talks to form an interim unity government to lead the country to elections this December, where Dbeibeh was designated as the prime minister and tasked with forming a new government.
Libyans hope that this will end years of civil war that have engulfed the country since the ouster and killing of strongman Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
The war was exacerbated when putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar, supported by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Russia and France, among others, carried out a military onslaught to topple the Tripoli-based internationally recognized government for control of the North African country.
The Italian diplomat also addressed Ankara-EU relations and underlined his country’s “strong support” of Turkey.
“Our country, within the EU, is among those who have most strongly supported the need to increase dialogue and have positive agenda with Turkey,” he said.
Noting that Turkey hosts the highest number of refugees globally, Gaiani said that Turkey must continue to be supported in its efforts to help refugees.
“We also believe that it is in the best interest of both EU and Turkey to resume the discussion on the modernization of Customs Union, as being a very relevant element for the growth of Turkey and the EU. It has been a win-win agreement, but it is outdated,” he added.
‘Updated, broadened Customs Union a must’
Noting that the Customs Union needs to be “upgraded” in order to “broaden the scope of the agreement together with a better implementation of this agreement,” he called visa-liberalization for Turkish citizens a “positive agenda.”
He expressed support for Turkey’s accession process to the EU and the strengthening of relations between Turkey and the bloc.
“We are strongly committed to facilitating the dialogue between Turkey and the EU, to support its accession process and to continue to cooperate with Turkey in the NATO framework,” he added.
Describing Turkey as “an important partner and crucial ally in the NATO,” the Italian envoy said: “We (Italy) will continue to develop further our bilateral relations that are based on true friendship, a continuous dialogue at a political level, and the strong economic cooperation as it shows our bilateral trade, and flows of foreign investments on both ways.”
Thanking Turkey for its “immediate gesture of solidarity” in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gaiani reaffirmed that “Italy is one of the countries that are most affected by the pandemic at the very beginning of this event.”
“Turkey has performed well, taking into account the seriousness of this pandemic and the fact that it’s something completely unexpected,” he said.
Describing the Turkish health system as a “territorial kind of wealth,” the Italian envoy in Ankara said: “I think that the Turkish public appreciated the way Turkey has faced this terrible challenge (COVID-19).”
With the summer season approaching, Gaiani also commented on travel to European countries, saying that it is difficult to predict what might happen.
“Europe is limiting the travels from outside of Europe and towards to Europe… We don’t know where we will be during the summer. It depends on how fast we will go through with the vaccination campaign,” he said.
He continued by praising Turkey’s nationwide vaccination campaign and said, “I must say that I was really impressed by the speed of how the vaccination proceeded in Turkey. They (have been) very fast, very efficient.”
However, Gaiani said Italy would apply stricter measures as countries see surges in COVID-19 cases linked to mutations and added that the Italian government may implement weekend lockdowns similar to those in place in Turkey until very recently.
“I can guarantee that Italy and Europe will do its best to continue to keep the movement of people… But it’s something that we have to see as the situation evolves in the next few months,” he added.
The ambassador praised how the Turkish economy has weathered the pandemic, saying that, “Turkey is one of the countries that performed well in this very difficult global situation at the end. Turkey’s economy scored a small plus, but when while we have -9.39, -9.7, so extraordinary results (by Turkey).”
Welcoming Turkey’s newly adopted monetary policy, Gaiani said, “I think that Turkey was very good in finding a compromise between facing the pandemic and keeping the economy running.”
“Italy trusts Turkey, and the flows of direct investment shows this trust. We were number one in foreign investment in 2019. And we were among the top five, I also think, in the previous years,” he said.
Noting that Italian businesspeople in Turkey “are satisfied with their investment,” he said that “on many occasions, they have even reinforced these investments, and they are performing very well, and they trust Turkey.”
“They believe that it’s a resilient country that despite the unexpected events that happened all over the world, (Turkey) has proved to be able to continue to perform well on the economic side,” he added.
No peace in East Med without Turkey
Gaiani also hailed Turkey’s position in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying there can be “no sustainable solution in that area without fair participation by Turkey.”
The envoy stressed Turkey’s significance in the Eastern Mediterranean region and said, “We strongly believe that Turkey is part of this area. It has the longest coastline.”
Asked about the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), Gaiani said that Italy has “always conceived this forum as a way to improve cooperation among the countries that are interested in developing energy resources in the Mediterranean.”
“We believe that this forum should be as inclusive as possible. And it is quite clear that it has to act with a positive spirit and not with the negative spirits. We made that very clearly, to all our partners,” he added.
The EMGF is an international organization founded by Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Greece, Italy, Israel and the Greek Cypriot administration of Southern Cyprus (GCASC).
EastMed is a 1,900-kilometer (1,180-miles) natural gas pipeline project extending from Israel to Greece and then onto Italy.
Critics have said it is not possible to fill the pipeline with the current known gas reserves off Israel’s Eastern Mediterranean coast and that even if Egypt is added to the project, the endeavor banks on potential discoveries of reserves in the region.
The Italian envoy referred to the ongoing tensions between Turkey and Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean, welcoming the development that the two sides are in dialogue once again.
“We very much welcome the engagement by the two countries (Turkey and Greece), and to continue in these talks, to try to clarify, and if possible to solve these problems,” he said.
He said: “There are important resources in the eastern Mediterranean from the point of view of energy,” Gaiani said, “We really hope that these resources will be an element to solve problems to bring countries together.”
He noted the significance of Turkey’s presence in the region and stressed that “there is no sustainable solution in that area without fair participation by Turkey. I think that this is very evident.”
“If these problems are not solved, the risk is that the gas would stay under the sea where it is and that everyone will lose. That’s why we always plea for more dialogue, more cooperation,” he added.
Thanks to Egypt’s recent show of respect of Turkey’s continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, on March 3, signaled the potential normalization of relations with Egypt and said Turkey could sign an agreement on maritime jurisdictions with Egypt following negotiations.
Gaiani welcomed the development between Turkey and Egypt and said: “These countries are both very important partners in the Mediterranean, and they are relevant actors in the area.”
“We hope that this positive trend will continue with the contribution by all parties involved,” he added.
‘Turkish-Italian relations based on mutual trust’
Meanwhile, Turkey’s ambassador to Rome also told Anadolu Agency (AA) that Turkish-Italian relations are based on mutual trust.
Murat Salim Esenli said Mario Draghi’s government is aware of the strategic importance of Turkey and that the Italian prime minister relayed a clear message about bilateral relations in his address to the Italian Parliament while seeking a vote of confidence.
“Mr. Draghi gave very clear messages about the position of our country. I think he has already included the necessary signals in his address,” said Esenli.
“When we look at it, it is possible to overcome many problems in relationships based on this understanding. We expect our relations to go beyond their current potential under the government of Mr. Draghi. In this context, we need to look at developments in our bilateral economic relations. It’s also very encouraging,” he added.
Esenli said Italy has historically supported Turkey’s EU bid.
“We continue our mutual cooperation with Italy in many areas and face common challenges. We are in an effort to find common solutions to these common challenges,” he added.
There is a consensus to meet for an intergovernmental summit in the first quarter of the year, Esenli noted, saying the course of the pandemic interrupted the plan “a little.”
Esenli said he is pleased with the state of Turkish-Italian relations, adding that there is potential for the further development of ties, noting that businesspeople and the private sector, in particular, are ready.
Italy made the highest rate of direct investments to Turkey in 2020, despite the pandemic challenges, Esenli said, and stressed that this is an important indicator of the strength of Turkish-Italian relations.
“The target set by our President (Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) in terms of trade volume is $30 billion (TL 227 billion). We had reached $20 billion in 2019,” he said.
“Unfortunately, there was a decrease in our bilateral trade volume due to COVID-19, but we can say that it is relatively small (standing) at the level of 10-11%. Because the conditions are too harsh. I sincerely believe that when returning to normal, it is possible for us to quickly reach the target of $30 billion,” he added.
Esenli noted relations in the field of energy, pointing to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, which is the continuation of the Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline, which became operational during his term of office.
Italy was heavily affected by the pandemic, he said, recalling how Turkey helped Italy during the difficult period.
He stressed the significance of the COVID-19 aid sent by Turkey to Italy on April 1 last year, which he said, demonstrated his country’s strength and friendliness.
“Of course, another dimension is that the EU left Italy alone at the time we made this assistance. And Turkey has extended a friendly hand in these dark days, without hesitation, to Italy. It was happening in a very emotional period. There were many deaths from COVID-19, despair was knee-deep,” he added.